Nearly two dozen countries were to commit themselves Friday to saving primate habitats and stopping poaching in a historic push to protect the world's dwindling great ape populations.
The Kinshasa Declaration is the culmination of a five-day conference held this week in Congo's capital. Experts warn that without urgent action, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos and gorillas in Africa and Asia could disappear within a generation.
"The declaration affirms political will at the highest level for the first time in the history of the great apes," said Matthew Woods of the U.N. Great Apes Survival Project, which organized the meeting.
Officials said the agreement would be key to helping stamp out poaching and cross-border animal smuggling.
"We need the commitment of governments for anti-poaching efforts to work," said John Sellar, a Scottish former police officer who now heads the anti-smuggling and organized crime divisions for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. "Collaboration that is necessary has not been present until now."
Great apes gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans have been threatened for decades by logging, poaching and conflict worldwide. There are believed to be about 400,000 left Africa and Asia, compared to millions in the 19th century, according to the United Nations.